Success: Do What You Want To Do
Source:Art World Author:Hu Bushi Date: 2008-08-26 Size:
Success is not quantifiable. There is no quotient for measurement. There are angels of artists who wouldn’t wait to make known that his works are auctioned thousands of dollars a piece. Angels are lovely for what they are.


Hu Bushi: You’ve come to know life’s coziness now. For you have everything to meet a commoner’s desire for life. Are you awake to your being a success?

Qu Guangci: It all depends on the standard. Success is not quantifiable. There is no quotient for measurement. There are angels of artists who wouldn’t wait to make known that his works are auctioned thousands of dollars a piece. Angels are lovely for what they are.

In practical terms, life as we have now is quite beyond imagination in our memory. I once wagered with Xiang Jing, on our arrival at the Shanghai Normal University for the teaching post, that we would quit once we pocket our first million. Later Xiang came to be utterly disgusted at teaching, and asked me, why haven’t we seen our million? We have seen it a long while ago, I answered, only it’s not enough. We have yet to seen the next to secure our freedom. It’s more than gains and gold. I regarded material success as vital, and it’s lost its importance now, as what’s to be gained is gained.

Hu Bushi: So indeed, what is success in art?

Qu Guangci: It could be satisfaction on my own part. There might be a day when my work works its persuasion into its proper creator who, in spite himself, let it hear a heartfelt “Bellissima!”, as many a time he did before superb works of a real maestro. I am waiting to be persuaded.

Hu Bushi: It reminds me of Doctor Faustus, in which the good doctor and the devil Mephistopheles made a wager that Faustus dies the day he utters “How the world is beautiful!”. As artist, he may never produce a piece to his perfect gratification. He may indeed produce a brainchild, systematically to account for all past efforts, to prove that they are not wasted, and to to show how well they are spent. Yet better works remains there in future.

Qu Guangci: In deed, a “perfect satisfaction” is hypothetical. It is a hypothesis for future. The fascination of future lies in its store of indeterminancies. They keep us, feed us with desire of exploration and, when we are frustrated in our endeavor, welcome us back onto our proper track.

So far as the product or art proper is concerned, each step onward into a fresh state brings about fresh demands for the artist. I believe that up to now we both remain in that most prolific circle of artist, with progress seen by the year. We have wild fancies over future.

Hu Bushi: The present time is special for art. Now spring’s coming, now all’s blossoming. As half a member to the art circle, I am a usual listener to my artist-friends talk of success. Somebody has succeeded, and somebody else is less successful. The less successful craves for more; the successful craves beyond. A prevalent scene.

Qu Guangci: You remind me. I think we have succeeded – the standard is: we do what we want to do.

Hu Bushi: Yet we don’t collect praises from everyone, nor receive acknowledgment that we are successes. Much is given up, perhaps, in a sense. Qu and the like are thought to have lost something. Recovery impossible.

Qu Guangci: That’s a matter of career, art and life, and not the less in connection to one’s appreciation of life. “I have more memory than future.” The Beatles once chanted, if my memory is not given up. Such is life. The better you gain, the greater you lose. Again we have it hypothetically, ever changing.

Hu Bushi: Years ago, an artist’s success was a rarity. For judgment then was rigid and reduced to the System’s approbation or reward. Now there is diversity. You can be a success, either commercially or academically. Yours, if you will, has longtime served as an instance of commercial success.

Qu Guangci: I was hardly there to choose business. It made the choice. Up to now, I believe that business is most democratic. When you vote with your money, you can’t be more serious.

There is a difference between being commercially successful and being commercial. Distinct ideas, I should say. Business is democratic. Material investment or immaterial love, collectors know what they are after.

Optimist in Pessimistic Strain

Hu Bushi: You have come to be a success in artists. Looking back on that less successful Qu, what do you have there, in heart and in mind?

Qu Guangci: Interesting question. Food for contemplation, I believe.

Sometimes I believe that the I in the present tense and the I in the past tense can only be two utterly different entities. We move onward, step by step, like ropewalkers.

When I was teaching at the SNU, we had the lamps of that small building, in which was our workshop, always lighted. Even our students wouldn’t retire before midnight. The president of the Establishment wondered, on his homeward walk by that building, why it was always lighted, or were the inhabitants forgetful. However, he saw students at work every time he passed by.

Now that we have quit the post for good, and we are incensed at the education system, a slightest thought at the so much beloved career provokes tears. However your present view on the matter, once your love and your devotion, that sometime life of your refuses to be forgotten. Forgetfulness and truthfulness are no cohabitants of your mind.

Hu Bushi: If you are given a second chance, will you take it?

Qu Guangci: No, I won’t, success or failure.

Hu Bushi: You don’t have a mind to start all over again? Are you so decided?

Qu Guangci: No, not at all. Right or wrong, I’ve no mind for repetition. All’s been inspiring, all’s been treasure for me. Starting over again is but a copy of that life you have lived.

Hu Bushi: You don’t because you’d been too much impressed by your own vividness, or because there’d be no more sense of life in that life-once-again?

Qu Guangci: Neither. Too much trouble for me. I am much experienced, after all. It’s troublesome.

Hu Bushi: In that case, do I find a pessimist in Qu Guangci the Artist?

Qu Guangci: I’ve found myself as rather an optimist.

Hu Bushi: Optimist in pessimistic strain.

Qu Guangci: I stand an optimist before future, as optimists never hesitate. All my optimism lies in that ever present option of that one road. Our lucky stars have brought us into this age, east or west, Beijing or Shanghai, ever a road before us, haven’t they? Moving is no longer irksome for me, nor changes of life, for this time in which we live is rich in opportunities and generous in offering them.

Grateful to Life… Forcing Me into Understanding Its True Visage.



Hu Bushi: You left the Central Art Institute upon graduation. How did your “leaving” become an event?

Qu Guangci: I didn’t choose to leave the CAI. Though I much felicitate myself at it, I was elbowed out then. I had been accepted as a student predestined, in theory, for teaching post at the CAI. And upon graduation, there was no quota for me. I was elbowed out.

Looking back, I feel rather grateful to those squeezers for all that they had done. If I had been allowed to stay at the CAI, my road would have stopped there. I would say that once inside the CAI, you need extraordinary courage to step outside. Most insiders choose to stay, for the juiciness of the name. For the price is dear for entry, and the reward rich.

I am grateful to life for this. Life has instructed me, forcing me into understanding its true visage.

Hu Bushi: However, it must have hurt you then.

Qu Guangci: Leaving the CAI, I had been furious. When possessed with that fury, I felt powerful. Disenchanted, I was droopy. Fury set me alight, and I was burning into a real man.

Hu Bushi: What happened to you in Shanghai? There seemed to be years of all brilliance for you in Shanghai.

Qu Guangci: I take it as another major point of transition in my life. I was elbowed out of the CAI after graduate studies, shunned by jobs I much needed, driven into exile between heaven and earth, and drunk deep in the indifferences of the world. All these spelt a reformation on me, highlighting me in the way of the world. Another important course of life was that four-year assistantship to the dean of the Art School of the SNU.

Hu Bushi: Which was considered a good success.

Qu Guangci: It was indeed folly. I felt an urge to effect some change, and hope seemed to be at a stone’s throw.

Hu Bushi: In other words, you were fully bureaucratized and in full swing at your bureaucratic preoccupation.

Qu Guangci: Years of assistantship helped me to see through the corruption of the system. Bureaucratic relations are not human relations, or they must be insufferable. Animals are not yet humans. They are afraid of being considered less. Among them, eulogies are weighed. They hesitate before giving it. They blush when given to. Man has developed his interest into a tumor. This I was sure of. How he has developed his interest into a tumor. This I was interested in. This interest then developed into a fury, and this fury into an impetus to creativity.

Hu Bushi: However, this tumor is not unique to bureaucracy. It belongs where interest is.

Qu Guangci: Exactly. I was once feeding my face with a host of artist friends. While some among them were honeying the mastermind, I was suddenly struck by the idea that they could well stand in my place at my school’s routine conferences. They could only be fitter. I thought there was no personal difference as to flattery, inside or outside, bureaucrats or mastermind.

Hu Bushi: When you have seen the latent rule of the system, you see there are much more waiting for you, and you are capable of that.

Qu Guangci: If you intend to profit from the system, you must take on a huge cost, your life. In our father’s generation, the assistant was always younger, and the chief older. Then the younger one waited and waited until the retirement of the older. If you think you have confidence in your toughness, your youth and your good hide, you may as well wait, until your life is reduced to a hide. Is that worthwhile? Looking from this perspective, I made the ready decision to leave, leaving every benefit to the system.

Hu Bushi:Such is the stimulus and the courage which helped you to leave the SNU.

Qu Guangci: You may as well say so. For us, however, it never has been about courage. It is easy to see that, to win the same object, the cost can be kept at minimum if you keep to this steady side of a system. Nevertheless, our quitting for that other side beyond was the clear bargain of a plan. My losses had never been my property. When I received them from the School, they were called my belongings, and I was supposed to stand their consumption till my life is consumed.

Nonetheless, I don’t expect to play the double part of professor, I mean those profit-holders whom I had once fought, and artist.

Meanwhile, I don’t expect to become one of those profit-holders whom I had once fought. I don’t want to be artist and professor in one. I don’t have a mind to be an official who makes money. I want to be an artist, for which I am capable. This I am sure.

I told them of my intention to leave. I believe that none of the leaders took it. It was taken for a bargain or a smoke ball with veiled conditions behind. Frankly speaking, the former president of the school had offered the best preferential policy to keep us only three years before.

We fled from the system, forced or willing. Given a system like the CAI, Xiang Jing and I had been lucky. That was because our character and view of life support our leaving it. That same impetus helped us when we left the college faculty. I even harbor the wish that I should fled the idea of sculpture.

An escape from the game rule designed and imposed years ago by a system is not the same thing as an escape in the sense of life, which reckons a willing abandonment at success.

Hu Bushi: Fleeing the idea of sculpture. How is that?

Qu Guangci: Fleeing the idea of sculpture is first of all fleeing the system of sculpture, for it is the system that decides the value.

Then there should be reconsideration of what was understood of sculpture. The coloring of a piece of sculpture, for instance, is indeed the dismantling of the previous model. In treating the false and factual, I think there’s much to learn from cinema, the stage, photography or painting. And language should be closer to literature.

I Am Not A Man To Take Repetition.

Hu Bushi: Now matters of creation. Yours is much varied one, diverse in pursuit, and rich in reflection and criticism – some implicit, others not. Is it probable that there will be a more varied stock of language involved in your creation? Such as the employment of those more literary, more pictographic, or even cinematographic vehicles?

Qu Guangci: I think this variability has something to do with temperament. It is obvious that an elucidation needs to drive deep into memory, the deeper the better. And it is obvious, too, that repetition serves to fix memory. Nevertheless, this driving deep is nothing but repetition if it is viewed on a personal ground. To me, repetition is a terrible bore, interest the first drive toward expression. No interest, no expression, where’s the third way? I am an utter failure in taking repetition. I have my recourse to variability, a hard set of mentality for this immobility-for-mobility age of ours.

For I can’t stand being bound, which is the traditional mode of sculpture. No other profession is like it. A typewriter is enough for literature, twenty square meters is enough for painting – not to mention its Chinese variation, a violin is enough for a tour of the world, and cinematography is ever flowing, ever organizing. Only sculpture is bound in space of creation. We are bound. Now you see our difficulty in a change of workshop? Xiang and I, we need two containers for our appearance at an exhibition in America. What is two containers? That one for Xiang, that only needs thirty men to move.

Hu Bushi: But I am afraid this restriction in space have no hope of being altered.

Qu Guangci: And for that, I have always been attempting at new methods of artistic creation to bring changes to my life. I can’t stand this one I have. For sometime I wished I could have a change at writing. I soon found that my literary sense had no place for its charm. In the first place, sculpturing is what I wanted most to do. In the second, literary work demands my acceptance of poverty, which means Xiang’s financial support. As a man, I will never have it. For a time, indeed, we had been living on Xiang’s selling her works. It is a miracle we’ve gone through. But I am in no way to give up attempts at kneading and shaping of life and creativity. I am a beneficiary to the variability in method and expression.

An Academician Is Not An Artist Produced by Academy.

Hu Bushi: Now I remember certain voices, which argues that your art is academician art. How do you figure academism?

Qu Guangci: There are some who understand academism as something of tradition. It is not that. Tradition is not to be given up. It is what has carried us all the way down here, down now. Our poverty is in tradition. There is no exaggeration of its value. Many believe that academism is a type of tradition, or a modeling ability, or some product out of drilling, or a nut with esthetical core. Inversely, what is not technically rich is no academism.


Hu Bushi: Shall I put it this way: if academism is taken as something traditional, it is the root, the fecund soil, or the basis. Take a person’s creation for instance. Like flower, like fruit. He has his work’s image taken after tradition, doesn’t he?

Qu Guangci: I would rather have academism as something ever simmering, never coming to a good boil. Art of leisure and of comfort. Abstractly decorative. Affectation of criticism. Inertia of conservatism. Pick out some techniques and put them to cloths, and you have academicians.

Hu Bushi: Such is academician your version. Thus, you will not be happy to be taken for one of them.

Qu Guangci: No. I do not consider myself an academician. I am rather an artist coming out of an academy.

Hu Bushi: Or it can be said that you carry the imprint of that root of tradition in you, in the sense of that first academism we’ve come to define. You have respect for those qualities you received from tradition. They are sources of creation for you.

Qu Guangci: That richness, that diversity in modeling, that spatial relation between human bodies, all are discernable, to the grain and to the hair, by professionals only. The amateurs, however, imagine. The whole dimension in relation, or how such vigor generates such effect? A mere humanlike figurine is not a piece of sculpture. I am proud of myself for this ability.

Hu Bushi: Helas, pride of an artist.

Qu Guangci: Hssss… sounds like conceit to say so.

Hu Bushi: Now, how do you make this little fatty? Technically, there are loans from medieval art in it. As artist, you are necessarily classical. In Michelangelo’s time, or farther back, in those distant years of Classical Greece, models are born of stones through man’s hand, carrying that touch through eternity. Your fatty has received that touch. Is that touch a part of techniques, or is it a part of that stock of expressive language?

Qu Guangci: Personally, I believe it to be esthetical. Of course it is kind of simmering esthetics, not worthy of a boil. I am not saying that fatty is a beauty. That model is beautiful. You knead and knead, and lo! What fatty! You are enlivened before he is. What joy!

Hu Bushi: Joy of creation.

Qu Guangci: You have it. No one but I see it. That’s what you come to, with your violin. Much influenced, I am still under the spell of medieval painting and sculpture, and early Renaissance painting.

Hu Bushi: I am a more familiar amateur at painting. I feel that somewhat poignant coloring in your works, tainted with a bit of evil. Does your pursuit of a medieval sense in coloring carry you so far as to a conscientious application of it?

Qu Guangci: Life is gloomier than it is glorious. If I were to knead a certain gloominess into my works and let shine when it should, that would be my best success in shaking off that shackle of life.

Hu Bushi: I would like to know your best fruit according to yourself, may I?

Qu Guangci: I made a set in my graduate years. They were named Walkers. Some dozen people are walking, very vague, not knowing where to go.

Hu Bushi: Where are they?

Qu Guangci: They were left at the CAI, discarded later like rubbish.

Hu Bushi: Discarded?

Yes, discarded. I’d thought of trucking them back. But there are so many layers after layers of graduates at the CAI, irresistible buriers of you and your work. There could be one or two pieces of survivors, who knows? Sometimes I feel memory is perhaps their best keeper.

Then back in Shanghai there was another, No Mao, title in English. I like it. That “No” series remains unfinished. That’s a pity. Could have been good. I lost my heart. No exhibition. Publish, or perish.

I love to see wisdom in things. Condensation is getting shorter these days. They can’t wait to see it. Satisfaction or not, only I know. Good joy or not, I find that balance in my heart.

We Have But One Different Life to Accept.

Hu Bushi: Why not Xiang and you. You are an exemplary couple among artists.

Qu Guangci: All see us in connection with each other. My life is in her life, and hers in mine. Those closest to us would say that I am quite a help to Xiang, that I even sacrificed something for her sake. Others fancify and say that I am a parasitic behaviorist.

While there is no truth to either of them, there is in both. A life together means the modeling of each by other. And we have no slight difference between us. That difference is particularly important for a couple working in the same profession, which has brought together too many similarities.

Hu Bushi: Indeed. Say I get a companion from that same circle of sometime philosophy or Chinese majors. Then they would say, birds of a feather flock together, in a critical strain. But the vital thing is that difference in similarity. That counts.

Qu Guangci: Perfect resemblance is a couple’s horror. Marriage or companionship, eternal loneliness stands between humans. Difference is only in degree. To marry is to compromise. Give the other your good care and win back the same for yourself. Heaven has graced you in the gift of tolerance and understanding, to compromise you as it is to guard you.

Hu Bushi: “To guard” is well put. A thinker or an artist, or one with a deeper care for life, knows his own loneliness, harder to be deprived as hard to give. The better he knows of it, with gentler care and greater art he is to reckon it, before the eventual opening to that other.

Qu Guangci: And here tolerance is particularly important. Of course, complementarity in character and ability weighs no less. I am, for example, more rational and dialectic, whereas Xiang is an entirely personal and emotional type, very instinctive. I have a mind for business, a gift from heaven. Xiang is utterly ignorant in this. I think my understanding of society and human nature helps me in business judgment. Xiang is born emotional, self-centered, and minutious. She has to live and grow on her own.

Hu Bushi: Or, we should say, artists of Xiang’s type are instinctive and pure. I have read her works, very powerful, with a rustic cruelty in them. She impressed me deeply with her understanding of life. Yours is a much-coveted companionship. Your understanding of loneliness and life covers her loneliness and her life.

Qu Guangci: Sometimes I think life is tragic. One of its tragedies is that man never achieves his true union with another. Man is doomed to his loneliness.

Hu Bushi: There is great novel by Bohumil Hrabal, called All Too Boisterous Loneliness. A mind habituated to reflection has to accept the fact of his loneliness.

Qu Guangci: One evidence is, excuse me for being pessimistic, that we haven’t had our child yet.

Hu Bushi: I have been hovering over that. Only I didn’t ask for decency’s sake.

Qu Guangci: No children. When we die, we die without an heir. Adieu to the world. I am afraid I have been lingering. Addicted as I am to the creation of works, how am I to create a human being? Sometimes I told Xiang Jing that we have to accept some special treatment of life, since we are some special kind of people. You have to abandon some of what others have, to achieve what others never have achieved.

Hu Bushi: You have not made any decision, have you?

Qu Guangci: Not at all. Xiang said she would accept if I insist. The problem is that even I do hover. I never believe I am entitled to more, since I have already been given a grace of a woman in her. I would be finding fault with life itself if I should demand both an extraordinary woman and the complete life of a common man. I have to wait and see. Besides, I will try my best so that we may live our life together to its brilliancy.

Hu Bushi: Certainly Xiang will play her part actively, trying to be perfect.

Qu Guangci: After all, let us better accept ourselves! Thanks to our temperament, we have been keeping the openness of mind! We had an early success, and we have time for the road ahead. As I believe we will certainly outdo our predecessors, I pray that we will not be outdone, not so soon at least, by those who follow up.

[Editor] Mark Lee